Published: 00:01, 07 June 2017
Three hundred and fifty years ago, a Dutch fleet of ships stole their way up the River Medway and launched a daring attack on the English naval fleet moored at the dockyard in Chatham.
In the battle that ensued, the English ships were destroyed and the River Medway was engulfed in flames.
Now all’s fair in love and war as Dutch visitors will be welcomed with open arms by Medway folk, as part of the anniversary celebrations of what became a pivotal – if lesser known – time in naval history. It led to huge investment in new ships and dockyard facilities, laying the foundations for British supremacy at sea for the next 200 years.
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Two weeks of events which not only mark the battle but also the relationship between the Dutch and English today, will reach an explosive climax when the Medway will again be lit up, as the action is dramatically relived – expect water screens, projections and fireworks.
They include street festivals, exhibitions, arts and cultural activities and family entertainment bringing people together across Medway and attracting visitors from the UK and abroad. Some 50 yachts including traditional vessels will head up the Medway to Chatham Maritime throughout the two weeks, beginning on Thursday, June 8. More are expected to arrive on Wednesday, June 14.
The grand finale on Saturday, June 17, Medway in Flames, will be held at the battle site on the River Medway at Chatham overlooked by Upnor Castle and the dockyard itself.
The finale can be viewed from Chatham Maritime, at the river wall stretching the distance of Leviathan Way and will be held after 9pm. From 2pm there will be river entertainment including Army and tug boat displays and jet-ski demonstrations.
There will also be zones around the Dockside Outlet Centre and the Ship and Trades pub where visitors can enjoy live music, food and drink, craft stalls and a funfair.
Medway Council leader, Cllr Alan Jarrett, said: “It’s important that we remember the history on our doorstep. We want to welcome visitors both local and from further afield to Medway to learn, share and be enthused by a large but often forgotten part of English history.”
The two weeks of Battle of Medway anniversary celebrations run from Thursday, June 8 to Saturday, June 17.
For more details you can visit medway.gov.uk/BoM
A ROYAL SEAL OF APPROVAL
The festivities will get a royal seal of approval when they cast off from the Historic Dockyard Chatham on Thursday, June 8.
More than 2,000 guests and VIPS will be there to see the special opening ceremony – including Dutch royalty.
There will be a royal salute, speeches and a parade with performances by the combined British and Dutch Royal Marine Bands during the afternoon.
Among the VIPs will be Prince Maurits of Orange-Nassau, van Vollenhoven, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sir Philip Jones as well as Viscount De L’Isle, the Lord Lieutenant of Kent, former Commander-in-Chief Fleet of the Royal Navy Admiral and chairman of the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, Sir Trevor Soar and Medway Council’s Alan Jarrett.
It takes place in Museum Square in the dockyard site and the public can apply for up to 10 free tickets from the 1,800 available.
Director of preservation and education at the dockyard, Richard Holdsworth, said: “The dockyard was, after all, the reason for the battle 350 years ago. It also played a pivotal role in the shipbuilding programme that took place after the battle, which went on to secure Britain’s command of the oceans for over 200 years. The day will be very special.”
Guests need to arrive between 1pm and 1.30pm, with events starting at 2pm and finishing at 3pm. The attractions and exhibitions won’t be open that day.
There will be no on-site parking on the day except for blue badge holders.
Tweet your pictures using #BoM350 #TNC350.
A landmark exhibition, Breaking the Chain, will run at the dockyard from Friday, June 9 to Sunday, September 3, bringing together for the first time a collection of Dutch and British art, literature, historic manuscripts and objects on loan from a number of national and international museums, including the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Also on show at the dockyard will be the Command of the Oceans exhibition, a permanent display which captures 400 years of history, telling the unique role of the dockyard in creating ships for the Royal Navy.
A permanent exhibition at Upnor Castle will also open to the public on Friday, June 9, which will tell the story of the Battle of Medway through specially commissioned paintings and extracts from diarists of the time including Samuel Pepys.
Upnor Castle was in the thick of the action 350 years ago, as it was from there that the British fired at Dutch vessels to try to stop the onslaught.